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When fans are the real Heart of a club (There will always be Heart of Midlothian)

A look at Heart of Midlothian, its history and salvation

Soccer - Clydesdale Bank Scottish Premier League - Heart of Midlothian Financial Crisis Photo by Danny Lawson/PA Images via Getty Images

Football is nothing without fans, it’s one of those cliches which became very popular during the Covid-19 period. For a club like Heart of Midlothian, it’s a statement of fact. The club, more commonly known as Hearts, would no longer be in existence but for the fans coming together. Here is the history of the club and how its supporters saved it from oblivion.

Hearts Cheers Photo by Malcolm Dunbar/Picture Post/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Founded in 1874 in the Scottish capital of Edinburgh, they took their name from a local prison, which had also been the title of a novel by Walter Scott. The Heart of Midlothian crest is based on the mosaic which marks where the site of the old entrance to the prison. (Midlothian is the name of the county to which Edinburgh belongs) There was also a dance hall with the same name, where the club was formed.

While most people have heard of the bitter Glasgow derby between Celtic and Rangers, Edinburgh has its own rivalry when Hearts face Hibernian. Better known as Hibs, their name comes from the Latin name for Ireland, as it was formed a year after Hearts by the Irish community in the city. Unlike the Old Firm derby, the Edinburgh rivalry is not based on religion or sectarianism.

Hearts took part in the first ever season of the Scottish Football League in 1890, and in the 1894/95 campaign they won their first league title. Hearts have won four league titles in their long history, and two of those go back to this early period of Scottish football as their second championship win came just two seasons after their first.

That win was made all the sweeter as they finished two points ahead of second placed Hibernian. In 1891 Hearts had won the Scottish Cup for the first time defeating Dumbarton in the final, and between those first two league titles they also won another Scottish Cup.

That 1896 Cup Final saw them defeat Hibs in the final, and it’s also the only Scottish Cup Final to have been played outside of Glasgow. The game took place in Edinburgh, at New Logie Green, the home of another club from the city, St. Bernard’s FC. That club is no longer in existence, but they had won the cup the year before Hearts beat Hibs 3-1 in the final on their ground. Hearts won another two Scottish Cups early in the 1900’s, but after their win in 1906, they would need to wait almost another fifty years before lifting another major trophy.

A return to glory, and the most successful period for the club, came under the reign of manager Tommy Walker. A former Hearts player, he came back to the club after a spell at Chelsea, and became the assistant manager to Davie McLean. After ten years in charge, McLean’s death in 1951 saw Walker take over.

In 1954 they finished as runners-up to Celtic in the league and the following season they won their first Scottish League Cup when they defeated Motherwell in the final. Hearts had not reached a final of the Scottish Cup since 1907, but in 1956 they got revenge for that defeat to Celtic when they beat them in the decider to lift the trophy for the first time in 50 years.

There is a quote above the entrance to the player’s tunnel at Hearts Tynecastle stadium which reads ‘Blood doesn’t show on a maroon jersey’. Those words were written about a Hearts legend after that cup win over Celtic, John Cumming. Having suffered a head injury during the final, he left the field with blood pouring from the wound but returned to the pitch to play the full game and was named man of the match.

The following season Hearts again finished as runners-up in the league. That 1956/57 campaign saw them narrowly lose out to Rangers, but their long wait for a third league title was almost over. The 1957/58 season saw them stroll to victory as they finished 13 points ahead of Rangers. They lost just one game all season in their 34 league games, scoring a record breaking 132 goals in the process. Hearts are also the only club to have finished a league season with a goal difference of over 100. The next season they were unable to repeat the success as they again finished two points behind Rangers but they did win their second League Cup with a 5-1 win over Partick Thistle.

A year later, at the end of the 1959/60 season, Hearts had won both the league title and the League Cup. They did win another League Cup in 1963 but that 1960 success would turn out to be their last ever league title win. Walker’s side did come heart breakingly close in 1965 but defeat on the final day to Kilmarnock saw them lose out on goal average. Despite having a much better goal difference and more goals scored, the rule which saw goals for divided by goals conceded saw Kilmarnock narrowly clinch the title. In 1966 the Walker era came to an end when the legendary manager resigned, having brought seven major trophies to the club.

Those successes had also brought European football to the Tynecastle. Their first appearance came in the 1958/59 European Cup, and they had a 2-1 win over Standard Liege in Edinburgh, but they had already been beaten 5-1 in Belgium to bow out at the first hurdle. Two years later they were drawn with Benfica in the same competition, going down 2-1 at home and 3-1 away, as the Portuguese side went on to lift the trophy.

Hearts followed this with three appearances in the Fairs Cup, and the first of those in the 1961/62 season saw them win their first tie over two legs in Europe, and also meet an Italian side for the first time. The competition had seen representative city teams appear in the early years, but that edition saw Milan, Barcelona and Edinburgh enter two clubs each, and both Hearts and Hibs took part.

In the opening round Hearts were up against Belgian opposition again, but this time they overcame Union SG. They won both legs on an aggregate score of 5-1 and this set up a tie against Inter. When the sides met at Tynecastle on November 6th, 1961, Inter came away with a 1-0 win, their goal scored by Jorge Humberto. Later that month in Milan, an Inter side who would go on to finish second in Serie A that season, defeated Hearts 4-0. An English player, Gerry Hitchens, scored twice against the Scottish team. Hibs went out at the same stage, also losing 5-0 on aggregate to Red Star Belgrade.

In 1963/64 Hearts again competed in the Fairs Cup, and were drawn against Swiss side Lausanne Sports. In the away leg they came from 2-0 down to clinch a draw and when the second leg in Tynecastle finished with the same score they had to go back to Switzerland for a replay to decide who would advance. Yet again, Hearts came from two goals down and amazingly this tie too finished 2-2. On this occasion extra-time was played, and it was the Swiss who managed to grab the winner.

The 1965/66 Fairs Cup saw Hearts enter the competition in the second round. Here they defeated Norwegian side Valerenga in both legs. Now they were up against Zaragoza of Spain, a team which had won the competition two years previously. In the first leg at home, Hearts found themselves 2-0 down at the break, but they had made a habit of coming back and with ten minutes left in the game they were 3-2 up. But four minutes from the end they conceded again.

The second leg in Spain two weeks later again saw Hearts come back from a two goal deficit. When the tie finished 2-2, and with away goals not counting extra, they were again forced to travel away for the deciding play-off game. That didn’t take place until over a month later, and in the last ten minutes Marcelino scored the only goal of the game to knock Hearts out.

It would be another ten years before Hearts returned to Europe. A Scottish Cup final defeat to Rangers saw them qualify for the Cup Winners’ Cup in 1976. The first round draw pitted them with FC Lokomotive Leipzig, and a 2-0 defeat in East Germany meant they were up against it in the second leg. No strangers to coming back from 2-0 down, within half an hour of the home leg they had cancelled out Leipzig’s advantage. The Germans, however, scored before the break to put them ahead again on aggregate but in the second half Hearts scored three without reply.

Their reward for that win was a trip to West Germany for the next round. This time they would face Hamburg and they lost the away leg 4-2. Two weeks later the sides met again, but this time there was to be no comeback at Tynecastle. The tie was all but over after half an hour when Hamburg scored twice and they went on to win 4-1. The West Germans went on to lift the trophy.

The late Seventies and early Eighties was a dismal period for the club. The new Scottish Premier Division arrived in 1975, the top tier reduced to just ten clubs, and Hearts suffered relegation in 1977. This became a habit as they bounced between the top two divisions, until they managed to gain some consistency after returning to the top flight in 1983. Under player-manager Alex MacDonald, they won their first five games back in the Premier Division, but then went on to win just five more in their remaining 31 matches but their high number of draws saw them finish in fifth place and qualify for the UEFA Cup.

They were drawn against PSG in the first round of the 1984/85 UEFA Cup, and a 4-0 defeat at Parc de Princes put an end to their European return. They did restore some pride with a 2-2 draw in the home leg, with John Robertson scoring both goals. The following season would be their most successful since the golden period of the Fifties and Sixties, but it also saw plenty of heartbreak. Going into the final day of the season, they just needed a draw away to Dundee to clinch the league title. Apart from their two point advantage over Celtic, with two points for a win, they also had a better goal difference by four goals.

With Celtic doing their bit against St Mirren, where they went on to win 5-0, Hearts knew they needed to at least hold on to their scoreless draw at Dundee with less than ten minutes to play. Instead, they conceded two late goals to hand the title to Celtic. A week later they faced Aberdeen in the Scottish Cup Final, but from a team that had been chasing the double they ended the season empty handed as they fell to a 3-0 defeat.

Two seasons later, in 1987/88, they again finished as runners-up to Celtic in the league, but this time they were ten points off the winners. It did see them qualify again for the UEFA Cup and they had their most successful run in Europe. Having seen off Ireland’s St Patrick’s Athletic, Austria Vienna and Velez Mostar of Yugoslavia, Hearts reached the quarter-final where they would face Bayern Munich. Bayern had seen off Inter in the previous round but on the last day of February 1989 they left Tynecastle after a 1-0 defeat with Iain Ferguson scoring the goal.

A famous victory in front of a packed Tynecastle and now Hearts set off for Munich dreaming of the impossible. The Germans scored after 16 minutes, and the tie was now all-square. Hearts had chances to snatch a winner, hitting the post, but it was Bayern who managed to find the net and Hearts went out.

The second, and last time until now, that Hearts met an Italian club in Europe came in the 1990/91 UEFA Cup. They were there thanks to a third place finish the previous season and after Dnipro in the first round Hearts were drawn to face Bologna. By now Hearts had parted ways with Alex MacDonald, the man who, along with his assistant for a couple of seasons Sandy Jardine, had taken Hearts back to Europe and challenging at the top of the table.

MacDonald was replaced by Joe Jordan, the former Scottish striker who had played in Italy with Milan and Verona. A couple of days before Hearts were due to host Bologna in late October, the Italian side also had a change of manager. Franco Scoglio had been in charge since the summer when Gigi Maifredi had left to take over at Juventus.

Five league defeats in the opening six matches spelled the end of Scoglio’s short time at the club. The home defeat to Cesena on the Sunday before their trip to Scotland was the final straw, especially for the Bologna fans. The angry Ultras threw ripped up seats and threw them onto the track around the pitch, and the club owner was pelted with coins when leaving the stand after the game. Luigi Radice, former and future Fiorentina manager, was chosen to replace Scoglio, and his first game was the trip to Edinburgh.

It was a reunion for Jordan and Radice, as back in 1981 when the striker joined Milan, Radice was the manager. It wasn’t the greatest of starts for Jordan in Italy, and a lot of that was put down to his poor relationship with Radice. Before the game with Bologna the Hearts manager said that still today, he doesn’t understand what the manager didn’t like about him. Radice explained that Jordan didn’t speak Italian and had problems understanding his teammates. That season had finished with Milan relegated and Radice didn’t make it to the end of the season.

There was no way for fans in either Italy or Scotland to watch the game on TV, as UEFA had punished Hearts for selling the rights to one of their games to a Luxembourg station despite this being prohibited by UEFA. The Bologna fans were probably glad they didn’t get to see it, as Hearts took them apart in the opening half. Jordan’s side were 3-0 up at the break with Wayne Foster scoring twice and Iain Ferguson netting the third. Bologna did manage to pull one back in the second half, the goal coming after an indirect free-kick in the Hearts area just after the hour mark. A minute later Bologna were down to ten men but Hearts were unable to take advantage and increase their lead.

Two weeks later Hearts were made to pay for not finishing off the Italians, as Bologna won 3-0 and Jordan’s side were out of Europe. As for Radice’s Bologna, they would end that season bottom of Serie A and relegated. The following season Hearts finished as runners-up to Rangers in the league, and in 1993/94 they did beat Atletico Madrid at home in the UEFA Cup but their 2-0 defeat in Spain knocked them out.

At this stage former Hearts player Sandy Clark had taken over from Jordan, but the biggest change came in 1994 when Wallace Mercer sold the club with Chris Robinson and Leslie Deans taking over. Mercer had been in charge since 1981, and although the club failed to win any trophies under his reign, they had at least remained competitive and financially stable. Unfortunately, Mercer is most remembered for his plans to merge Hearts with their city rivals Hibs, an idea which did not go down well with either set of supporters.

The 1997/98 season finally brought success to the club. After a 35 year wait, they had some silverware when they won the Scottish Cup, beating Rangers in the final.

They also finished third in the league that season under Jim Jeffries as manager. The early 2000’s saw Craig Levein come in as manager and the club remained close to the top of the table and playing in Europe. In the background, however, financial problems were emerging, and owner Chris Robinson came up with a plan to sell their ground and rent the nearby Murrayfield rugby stadium. In what would become a pattern for the future, the fans came together and launched the Save our Hearts campaign.

Along came Vladimir Romanov in 2004, and the Russian-Lithuanian millionaire was seen as the saviour when he guaranteed that the club would remain at their Tynecastle home. Romanov had already tried and failed to take over other Scottish clubs, but at Hearts he consistently increased his shareholding and eventually controlled over 80% of the club’s shares. The first season under Romanov saw four different management teams in charge, but the club did make it to the group stage of the UEFA Cup, a new introduction to the competition. They defeated Braga to get there but they would finish bottom of a group won by Feyenoord with their only win coming against Basel.

The following season, 2005/06, started off promising much but soon fell into chaos once again. Under George Burley they won their opening eight league games, and still undefeated after ten games and top of the league, the club and Burley parted ways. This would be a feature of Romanov’s time at the club, and in the end, Hearts finished second but a long way behind winners Celtic. Graham Rix took over as manager but by March he too was gone, at one stage claiming that Romanov had been picking the team. Lithuanian Valdas Ivanauskas then took charge and there was at least a bright light at the end of the season. They defeated Hibs 4-0 in the semi-final of the Scottish Cup and went on to lift the trophy beating Gretna in the final.

Many Lithuanian players came and went in this period, as Romanov was also running FBK Kaunas. From 2011 the club’s finances were clearly in disarray, with players wages not getting paid on time as well as tax bills. There was one more big day out during this turbulent time, as Hearts reached the Scottish Cup Final again in 2012, where they would face Hibs.

It was over a century since the rivals had last met in the final, way back in 1896 in the decider played in Edinburgh. This time, despite many city councillors requesting the game to be played at Murrayfield, the game went ahead as planned at Hampden Park in Glasgow.

Hearts had beaten Hibs 3-1 in that last final, and this time it went even better as they ran out easy 5-1 winners to lift the trophy.

Two years after that cup win, Hearts was a club in freefall, and were relegated. They had started the 2013/14 season under administration and were handed a 15 point deduction as punishment, and relegation followed. Already, back in 2012 the club had been served a winding up order because of their tax debts. A plea was made to the fans, and they responded by selling out the stadium for their next fixture.

The Foundation of Hearts had already been set up in 2010, when five local businessmen, who were Hearts fans, came together. They could see where the club was likely to go under the ownership of Romanov. In 2013 when the club faced its darkest days, many other Hearts supporters’ groups joined the Foundation, with a large number of fans pledging monthly membership fees in order to save their club. They still needed help, which came thanks to local businesswoman Ann Budge. Budge invested £2.5 million in order to purchase the club’s majority shareholding, but there had always been an agreement in place that the fans would eventually pay this back and acquire ownership of the club themselves.

The club exited administration and won promotion straight back to the top tier after just one season and finishing third in their first season back in the Scottish Premiership. It hasn’t all been plain sailing, and in the 2019/20 season they suffered another relegation. This was the season cut short by the Covid pandemic, and the Scottish football authorities took the decision not to finish the campaign. At the time, Hearts were bottom of the table, and despite taking legal action against the decision, they went down.

The Scottish Cup competition was finally completed late in 2020, and Hearts, in the second tier at the time, were in the semi-final. On October 31st they defeated Hibs in the semi-final at Hampden after extra-time, unfortunately with no fans in attendance. They were beaten in the final by Celtic in December, only losing out on penalties after a 3-3 draw. Hearts again topped the Championship to come straight back up, just as the lyrics to the Hearts Song say “We’ve won the league flag and we’ve won the league cup, Though we sometimes go down we can aye go back up”.

At the beginning of last season, the fans took full control of the club. On August 30th, 2021, a date which was called Heart and Soul Day, Ann Budge handed back ownership of the club to the Foundation of Hearts. This made Heart of Midlothian the biggest fan-owned club in the UK. There are almost 8,000 members and they all contribute financially to the club and to date, over 14 million pounds has been raised.

Last season, just up from the second tier, Hearts reached the final of the Scottish Cup and they finished third in the league which gave them qualification for the Europa League play-off round. They lost the play-off with FC Zürich in August, but this still gave them a place in the Europa Conference League group stage, and they were drawn in the same group as Fiorentina.

Let’s not forget two players who spent time at both Heart of Midlothian and Fiorentina. Pasquale Bruno arrived at Fiorentina in our Serie B season of 1993/94 having played for both Juventus and Torino. After helping the Viola to promotion he stayed in Serie B when he joined his hometown club of Lecce. The tough defender spent one season at Lecce before leaving Italy to join Hearts. Bruno spent two seasons at the club, scoring one goal in his first season, which came in a defeat to Celtic. He was also in the side which lost the Scottish Cup final to Rangers at the end of that campaign.

The following season, 1996/97, saw him joined by another Italian, Stefano Salvatori. The pair played together in a behind closed doors game against Newcastle at the end of August, before Salvatori had signed for Hearts. This was a chance for manager Jim Jeffries to take a look at the player, and Bruno was adamant that he should snap him up.

Speaking after the 2-2 draw Bruno said that Stefano had seen friends like himself, Paolo Di Canio, Fabrizio Ravanelli, and Gianluca Vialli move to Britain and he wanted to do the same. According to Bruno, Stoke and Sunderland were also interested in signing Salvatori, but he told him to try Hearts first. “It’s Jim Jeffries decision, but if Stefano comes here it would be good for everyone. Hearts would be getting a great player, Stefano would be coming to a great club and I would have a good friend playing alongside me.”

Salvatori played the full 90 minutes against Newcastle and had a solid game, but Bruno insisted there was much more to come from the midfielder: “Don’t forget this was Stefano’s first game since that Coppa Italia Final in May.”

In that final, Salvatori came on as a sub for Atalanta in the second leg, a final they lost to his old club Fiorentina. He had two spells with the Viola, the first coming in 1988/89, where he scored one goal in a win over Lazio. Stefano then returned to his first club Milan the following season, but midway through the 1990/91 campaign he came back to Fiorentina. He scored a late equaliser against Torino in January, and remained in Florence for the next season.

After spells at SPAL and Atalanta, he made the move to Scotland. Jeffries was obviously impressed and signed Salvatori where he lined up alongside Bruno that season. Bruno then left Hearts while Salvatori was there for another two seasons. At the end of the 1997/98 season, Stefano was in the side which lined out at Celtic Park in the Scottish Cup Final against Rangers. 1956 was the last time Hearts had won the trophy, and the League Cup in 1963 was the last time they had won some silverware.

There were three Italians in the Rangers side that Stefano and Hearts faced that day in May, Sergio Porrini, Gennaro Gattuso, and another former Fiorentina player Lorenzo Amoruso. Salvatori and the rest of the Hearts squad became heroes that day as they finally lifted the Cup, after a 2-1 win. Stefano spent another season at Hearts, three in total, before returning to Italy to finish out his career in the lower leagues.

Stefano did return to Scotland later as a football agent, and it was back in Edinburgh that he met his future wife Gillian. The couple moved to Australia, but in 2017, he died after a three years of suffering with cancer. As an example of the high regard Stefano was held in at the club long after he left, in 2013 he was chosen to parade the League Cup trophy onto the pitch before the final with St Mirren.

Fiorentina fans know all too well the pain of financial problems at their club. The Hearts fans have shown how much can be done by supporters coming together, and it’s only thanks to those thousands of fans that the club is still here today. They have battled against the sale of their ground, against a merger with rivals Hibs, and then won the biggest battle of all by saving their club and now have total control of Heart of Midlothian.

There’s another song about the club, There Will Always Be Heart of Midlothian, by Neil Grant. It explains simply what happened, “When in danger we answered the call, Gathered our money and rescued the day, We will live on! We will live on! There will always be Heart of Midlothian”.